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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI textile scientists build extensive fiber database for FBI

Media Contact: Dave Lavallee, 401-874-5862

KINGSTON, R.I. -- July 27, 2004 -- When University of Rhode Island researchers started building a fiber database for the FBI in October 2002, they were asked for 400 samples.

By the time the project ended earlier this year, more than 1,800 samples were provided to the federal law enforcement agency.

Professors Martin Bide and Margaret Ordonez of URI’s Department of Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design teamed up on the $134,000 FBI contract after learning of research opportunities with the FBI through their participation in the URI Forensic Science Partnership. The FBI is interested in refining its textile analysis processes because fibers play such a critical role in forensic investigations, Bide said.

The team collected an array of different fibers from commercial companies, and drew on the extensive library of dyes in the department. Using a new dyeing machine acquired for the project, small samples of fiber were dyed with many different dyes, and dye mixtures.

For each dyed specimen, a permanent microscopic slide was prepared, a digital microscope image was generated, and a small sample of fiber of each specimen was placed in coin-holder envelopes and placed in three-ring binders. The image and details of the fiber and dye were included on a database that filled four compact discs. All of the information was submitted to the FBI Research Center at Quantico, Va. so that it can test the best ways to analyze the dyed fibers.

“This is another reason why we benefit from being in the Forensic Science Partnership,” said Bide, a resident of South Kingstown . “We do fiber analysis for the Rhode Island State Crime lab, and this was a natural extension of that work.”

Through the FBI contract, the department now houses a new piece of equipment, a Datacolor dyeing machine.

The research team also included graduate students, an undergraduate and a visiting scholar. Bide, an internationally renowned textile chemist, oversaw the dyeing, while Ordonez, of Cumberland, R.I., an international expert in textile conservation, conducted the microscopy for the project.

Additional samples of dyed fibers not needed for the FBI submission are held in vials at URI and are available if needed.

The undergraduate and graduate students were involved in the full range of work on the project, including dyeing and drying fibers, making slides of the samples, photographing cross-sections and entering them into the database that describes the fibers and the conditions under which they were dyed. The cross-sections of fibers, which are finer than a human hair, reveal a range of differences in colors, shapes, sizes, and unevenness in the ways they absorb dyes.

“This project used a lot of expertise we have here,” Ordonez said.
Jessica Urick, a graduate student in textile conservation, who came here from Maryland, said she was glad to have been a part of the project. “This is one of the few programs of its kind,” she said. “And it’s a great program because you get to do a little of everything.”

She knew about the textile department’s major contribution to URI’s nationally publicized baseball research and its various well-known conservation projects. “I actually figured when I came here, I would get to do a lot of different things and I wasn’t disappointed.”